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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Senior Member
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Speaks: Italian*, English, German
Studies: Russian, Swedish, French

 Message 193 of 297
01 January 2015 at 8:58pm | IP Logged 
Hej Cristina!

Even though I didn’t post much in your log in the last few months, I’ve enjoyed following it. It has turned into a fascinating travelogue and understand how hard it would be for you to leave this log for a new one.

I hope 2015 will give you plenty of opportunity for travel, first because you thrive when you have the chance to use all your languages and second, more egoistically, because we enjoy reading about your experiences abroad.

Have a serene and successful year!

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 194 of 297
01 January 2015 at 9:00pm | IP Logged 
Thank you, Emme, that was very kind!
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Senior Member
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Speaks: Portuguese*, Norwegian, French, English, Italian, Papiamento
Studies: Mandarin, Georgian, Russian

 Message 195 of 297
01 January 2015 at 10:47pm | IP Logged 
I second Emme's words. Reading your travel logs was an enriching part of my day, and the later posts about hosting foreign guests and practicing your target languages also taught us a lot. Wish you a happy and successful life in 2015, Cristina!
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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 196 of 297
02 January 2015 at 1:01am | IP Logged 
Thanks, Expugnator! I love it when people enjoy what I write:-)
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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3935 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 197 of 297
02 January 2015 at 1:45am | IP Logged 
tarvos wrote:
Solfrid Cristin wrote:
@tarvos: My capacity for making beginners's mistakes is
infinite, in any language :-)

I made a few beginner's mistakes just some weeks ago. But the question is - is it an
incident or a regular occurrence. If it's the first, don't worry about it. If you're
still seeing regular problems with very basic distinctions, that's when you need a
strategy to combat it. But like I said, you do not make those mistakes structurally (at
least, not as far as I can tell).

I am afraid we are still talking consistently basic mistakes here. I'll think of a strategy :-)
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Joined 2218 days ago

57 posts - 73 votes 
Speaks: English*, FrenchA2
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 Message 198 of 297
16 January 2015 at 7:12am | IP Logged 
Hi Christina,

Do you know which pages you have your travelogues on? I would love to read them :)

Good luck study this year!
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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
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4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 199 of 297
17 January 2015 at 10:06am | IP Logged 
Straya wrote:
Hi Christina,

Do you know which pages you have your travelogues on? I would love to read them :)

Good luck study this year!

On most of them :-) Just browse backwards in this log and you'll find it all.
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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3935 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 200 of 297
19 January 2015 at 12:13am | IP Logged 

I have decided on this year's New Year's resolutions. I am going to:

- Love more
- Laugh more
- Drink more
- Love myself more

I know. You could not have found a more un-Norwegian list of New Year's resolutions if you tried. But I stand
by them all. Traditionally my resolutions have been more conventional. Lose weight, exercise, eat healthily,
be a better wife, a better daughter, a better mother. Well I have lost weight, I do exercise, I eat healthily, I am
neither a wife nor a daughter anymore and I am a pretty good mother, so it is time for some new ones.

You may think I have gone off the deep end wishing to drink more, but since my entire alcohol consumption
in 2014 could have fitted comfortably into a single bottle, I do not think you need to call AA just yet. A little
Polish raspberry vodka in June and July, some Russian honey beer, a glass of French champagne and a
Martini Bianco in November and one glass of red and one glass of white wine in December was the year
total. So I figure that I can quite comfortably increase my yearly consumption with 300 % without worrying.   

And I am definitely going to love and pamper myself more. As a wife and mother I never felt that it was right
to spend time or money on myself. Well, that's going to change. On the second day of the New Year I had
some time on my own, and instead of writing the lecture I needed to get done, or doing some Russian
grammar, I run a hot bath with Chanel nr 5 gel moussant in it, put Tchaikovsky on the CD-player, turned off
the lights and lit a candle. I even considered whipping out the bottle of champagne I got for my birthday, but I
opted for some strawberries instead. Had it been summer, I would have filled the bath tub with rose petals - I
always do that, and the scent is absolutely intoxicating. No roses in Norway in January though :-) So relaxing
in the hot, scented water, slowly eating the strawberries, I decided that great as 2014 had been, 2015 is
going to be even better:-) I remember Mothers' days when the only present I wanted was to have the time to
have a nice long bath, but where my husband and kids were all banging on the door when I tried, so I
appreciate having a little time for self pampering now. I even got to use the raspberry body lotion my daughter
got me for my birthday. It was still unopened, and my birthday is in May, so definite room for more pampering
here :-) Of course I was just half through putting on body lotion when I got a telephone call with a cry for help
from one of my friends, so there went the rest of my evening, but I got to speak Spanish for over two hours,
so that is ok. I am keen to get all the Spanish practise I can.

I know some of you are still living at home with your mothers, and as soon as you finish reading this, I want
you to go and tell your mother that you love her, or offer to help her with something she needs help with. Your
mother would lay down her life for you, and most of us have a short list of people who would do that. Or if you
live with a significant other, run her a hot bath, take the baby off her hands for a little while, take the teen
agers out and let her pamper herself a bit too. And do not forget to tell her that you love her. Women
generally do not need diamonds or furs. We just need to know that we are loved and appreciated. A big hug
is a good start.

This week my life took a particular crazy turn of events. My Polish colleague suggested I'd write a book. I told
her that uneventful as my life is, I would still be accused of an over active imagination. Sometimes life really
does surpass art.

I have not done too much language studies over the last three weeks, and have instead focused on culture. I
feel the need to understand the Russian soul, and have been reading blogs about Russians and Russia, and
reading statistics of all kinds, but the more I read the less I seem to get it. Russian men should in principle be
the happiest people on the planet, since they get to live with Russian women. We are talking some of the
world's greatest natural beauties, who are the most well groomed and glamorous in the world, who cook
home made meals, take care of the kids, do the cleaning and shopping, and in general take really good care
of their men, due to the shortage of men. As if all this was not enough, I recently read an article of what made
women happiest in different countries, and for Russian women, what contributed most to their happiness was
to make love. Since we must assume that most of them have Russian husbands, and that the women would
be likely to want to frequently engage in activities which would contribute to their own happiness, the total
package is such that a Norwegian man would have thought he had died and gone to heaven. Norwegian
men have to cook and clean and shop and deliver the kids in the kindergarten and live with women who use
little to no make up and flat shoes, think shaving is strictly a male thing and would leave notes saying ' I am
off to Copenhagen with some friends for the week end, your dinner is on page 235 of the cooking manual,
and don't forget to bring the kids to their friends' birthday party tomorrow and to get them to soccer training on
Sunday ".

And yet whereas Norway is within the top three on UNs happiness index, Russia is on the 68th place,
Russian men drink themselves to an early death, with an average age of 65, and Russian couples have the
highest divorce rate in the world. A staggering 25% of the men die before the age of 55, mostly due to either
alcohol, drugs, smoking, unhealthy eating and lack of exercise or a combination of all of the above. A third of
all marriages end in divorce within the first three years, with infidelity, violence and alcoholism being cited as
the main reasons. These are not exactly exclusive traits for Russia, though. The rest of us may be a bit
better at hiding it, but these traits are found in every country. Obviously, also in Norway where a large part of
the divorces I know of has an element of infidelity in the story. A couple of weeks ago the topic of hitting
children came up in a conversation with a foreign friend, who said she did not think children were hit in
Norway. She had never heard of a child being beaten here. And I have since spoken with two more
foreigners with the same beliefs. I explained to her, that although it was against the law, and that people
disapproved most strongly, it did of course happen here too. The problem is that we have a code of silence,
which means that if you or your children are abused, you would not talk about it, which makes it possible to
go on for a very long time. An acquaintance of mine was regularly beaten up by her husband, but since she
did not say anything, it went on for years until they recently relocated to Spain. The neighbors who heard the
brutal beating called the police on him, and he got three years suspended sentence and is not allowed to see
her for those three years. And their family blamed her. She should have lied more convincingly in court,
because his death will be her fault since he will now drink himself to death! Yes. He is also an alcoholic. And
her family feels he should be excused because he is such a sweet and lovely person when he is sober. It
happens everywhere. Perhaps Russians are just more honest about it. I still wish I would understand what
makes so many Russian men so unhappy that they are committing life style suicide, though. At least one
good thing about Putin is that he seems to genuinely try to set a good example and live a healthy life. I wish
him every success in that particular endeavor, hoping it will save the life of hundreds of thousands of Russian
men in the years to come.

What I have found to be typical for Russians are big hearts, friendliness, chivalry, gentleness and a wonderful
sense of humor. Of course, I have never been married to one:-) Perhaps I should at one point in my life pull
an Isadora Duncan, and marry a Russian who spoke no English whatsoever. It would do marvels for my
Russian, and even I would look forward to reading the book I'd write about it :-) Isadora Duncan was
desperately unhappy in her marriage, and I think the Russian writer she married almost shot both himself and
her in desperation, but then again I could always hope that my somewhat better chances at communicating
would make for a happier union, plus I am less of a drama queen than Idadora Duncan. I am sure that the
minor obstacle of there being 10 million gorgeous Russian women in front of me in the line could be
overcome. For family reasons I cannot date a Russian until October 2017, so I have plenty of time to look,
and somewhere in Siberia there must be someone who finds a Norwegian woman incredibly exotic :-)

One of the many articles I have read over the last days was called "How to impress a Russian guy", and I
hope it is not accurate, because if it is, I have a zero % chance of ever doing that. One of the points they
suggested was "Clean his room". They have to be kidding me. I would not clean Brad Pitt's room if he asked
me. The only time I can remember cleaning a guy's room was many years ago, when my cousin as an adult
got horribly sick from chicken pox, and asked me if I could pick up some medicine for him. He had not eaten
for a week, (and like a typical Norwegian he had not called for help until he was truly desperate) so I got
some food, prepared a few meals that I put in his fridge, made sure he ate something, and since his room
looked like Dresden in 1945, I cleaned it for him, as he was so ill that he could not stand on his two feet. It is
30 years ago, but although he is the strong, silent type (he is chief of police now) he has never forgotten that I
came to cook and clean for him, and has mentioned it several times over the years. I was just happy to help
out, as I saw that he really needed it, but doing that in order to impress a guy? No chance in hell.

Depth, strength, and compassion are said to be general characteristics of the Russian soul. According to
Dostoevsky, "the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering,
ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything". I do not doubt Dostoevsky. I do not doubt
the capacity of Russians to suffer. They have shown that capacity again and again. But if I could make one
wish for them for 2015, it would be that they would not have to.

I have had the year's first encounter with my Kazakh friend. I had seen that Kazakh men have an even
shorter life expectancy than the Russian ones, I wondered whether it was for the same reasons, and since
she used to work as a doctor, I imagined that she would know. According to her it was more due to a bad
environment and poor health conditions. She said there was a lot of pollution, and that the authorities were
not really geared towards securing their people's health the way they do here.

She has a wonderful 2 year old grand child who speaks a charming combination of Norwegian, Russian and
Kazakh, who came running towards me crying, тётя Кристина!   I picked him up in my arms and swirled him
around and hugged him, which meant that the yoghurt on his bib got smudged all over my coat, but it was
worth it. I have not held a small child in my arms for a long while. It is one of those things you do not realize
that you miss until you do it.

We spent a long time doing Norwegian - in which she has a surprisingly good accent. Most Russians I have
met in Norway have a a quite strong accent, but she did well. Then we got to speaking Russian. I had not had
any formal classes in a while, so it is good to have some practice. My inhibitions in speaking Russian are
nonexistent with her, since it is the strongest common language. I asked her what she was most proud of in
Kazakhstan, and she said it was their traditions: family oriented, very hospitable, loved singing - I think I am
going to like Kazakhstan :-) We almost got into a fight today, though. She wanted to give me her favorite ring,
a silver ring of Kazakh origin, a family heirloom with a traditional pattern. She said it would give me happiness
and prosperity, and that she wanted me to have it as a token of our friendship, and of her gratitude to God
that we have met. I felt it would be utterly wrong to accept it and protested wildly, but it is now on my finger,
as she was so insistent that I did in the end not see how I could refuse it. I have not worn any rings for many
years, I could not bear to ware any, but I started wearing rings again a couple of months ago, so at least I can
honor her gift by actually using it.

I managed to hurt my ankle quite badly a few days ago, which was not the ideal run up to a Russian orthodox
mass which I intended to go to, where you are supposed to stand for hours on end. I was at some friends's
place, when I due to my really bad habit of folding my left leg under me and sit on it, had lost all feeling in my
foot, so when I got up and took two steps I fell flat on my face and twisted my ankle. I know sitting on my foot
is a really bad habit, but I do not smoke or do drugs, and hardly drink, and have given up sugar, fat food, men
and even chocolate, so it is about the only bad habit I have left.   Really happy I had 10 witnesses to the fact
that I had drunk water only though, as falling while being drunk would have been too embarrassing for words.
I had a great time apart from that, though. We were playing Trivial Pursuit, and I was teamed up with my
favorite partner, my friends's 23 year old son. We have nothing in common, which makes us the absolute
dream team for TP, since he covers questions from my white areas (sports, technology, geography, science)
and I cover his white spots (literature, music, films, languages, history). We are also both very good at
backing down when we are not sure of an answer. I have seen so many rounds lost because of team
members who insisted on their answer being the right one, when they had no clue whatsoever. I have tried to
push him on my oldest daughter, as son-in-law material, hoping for a lifetime of family parties with him as my
TP partner. She wanted to know whether he is hot, but assessing the hotness of a 23-year old boy is not
something I am qualified to do or would be willing to engage in.

I tried to point out what a great cook he is (she insists on not ever wanting to cook) and how smart he is. We
have here on the forum on a couple of occasions discussed what attracts women, (yes, Mark, I am referring
to some of your discussions) and it is a fact that many women are attracted to power and money. To a certain
degree I think it is unfair to brand them as gold diggers, though, because deep down it is all about feeling
protected, and I can understand how women might feel that this is something which can make you feel safe.

The women in my family have another measure for what makes us feel protected. Money or power does not
do it for us. In our case, the ultimate aphrodisiac is brains. Unfortunately that particular family obsession is no
guarantee for neither fortune nor happiness, so when I in my mid twenties was seeing someone who was
both one of the smartest people I have ever met, and the son of a previous prime minister, my mother had
great hopes for me, and when I told her that I was unhappy and was going to break it off, I got a "please think
again, women always have to put up with a lot from their men-speech". I went ballistic. To say such a thing to
a Norwegian woman who had grown up in the seventies was beyond ludicrous. And given that he was the
only man in my life who made me cry until I threw up, even without having any intention of hurting me, I did
not change my mind. I was very much in love with him, and he just liked me a lot. And in my experience, that
is the very worst of all possible agonies when you are in love. There are so many possibilities for being
unhappy when you are in love - the man you are interested in may not know of your existence, may not know
you have feelings for him, not be interested, be afraid to commit, be in love with someone else, be a jerk, live
far away, too young, too old, be gay, married, too jealous, too possessive - all are painful. But being with
someone who you love passionately, and who does not really love you back, is by far the most painful of all,
and not something one should continue if one values one's own sanity. So pushed by my best friend Hannah
I broke up with him, and today he is married to my now ex-best friend Hannah, and has four kids, and is a
member of the Nobel Peace committee. I did not blame her for pushing me to break up with him, I truly think
she had my best interest at heart, and I do not even blame her for dating him, but I could not forgive her for
doing so behind my back. I was still pouring out all my grief and loss after the break up to her, while she was
secretly dating him. I am happy for them today, though. They are both extraordinarily good people, and I am
sorry that our friendship did not survive the turmoil. That was my fault I am afraid. I felt too betrayed to be
able to forgive.

In my late twenties I attracted the attention of an American who was both extremely smart (double professor,
published several books within his field of expertise) and who happened to be a multi millionaire. My mother
was over the moon, hoping again that at least one of the women in my family would be well provided for, but
although I did indeed feel the attraction of his intellect, and we could talk and laugh for hours, the age
difference was way too big, plus our temperaments were so different that I knew that one of us would
undoubtedly have killed the other within the first year. Instead I maneuvered him into being one of my best
friends, and he has visited us for a couple of weeks every year for 20 years now. When I need to talk to
someone at 4 in the morning, he is the one I call (different time zones are a great thing). The day of my
wedding, as I was walking up the stairs to the church at my father's arm, seconds away from walking down
the aisle, my friend stopped me, put his hand on my arm, and said: "You know, I can get you out of town in 20
minutes." I just laughed, thanked him for offering, and told him to find his seat in the church.

The funny thing is that when my mother as a young woman was faced with the choice between money and
brains, she also chose brains, but she regretted it. Perhaps that was why she hoped I could get both.

I was however unable to persuade my daughter of my 23- year old Trivial Pursuit partner's qualities as long
as I could not show a picture of him. Brains was not enough for her. Of course had this been a foreigner, I
would have tried the other way round, and tried to convince him of her good qualities. Since this is a
Norwegian male, who belongs to a species who have made inattentiveness to women and lack of initiative
into an art form, I figured there was no point. It is actually a bit sad that Norwegian men generally (as always
there are lots of exceptions) are so inattentive, because otherwise they are amazing husband material. Hard
working, great handymen, take part in all household chores, good with the kids, moderate drinkers, very
peaceful, respectful, love nature, sporty, sensible with money and even good looking. And they make little to
no demands to your appearance. Jeans, sneakers, T-shirt and no make up is not only o.k, it is even
preferred. My Russian friend Olga says that the absolutely perfect man, is a Norwegian who has lived for a
long time in Russia, and who has all the Norwegian core values, but with the added Russian chivalry and
knowledge on how to treat a woman in order to make her feel good.   I did manage to show my friend's son a
picture of my daughter, though, even though he claimed that he remembered perfectly well what she looked
like. She is very beautiful, and I figured it did not hurt to remind him of that. I learned a wonderful Russian
saying at Christmas: "Мужчины любят глазами, а женщины ушами". "Men love with their eyes, and
women with their ears".   That explains why Russian women make sure they always look fantastic, and why
Russian men are so good at telling them :-)

I also read an article about which topics you should never discuss with Russians, and discovered with horror
that with my two colleagues I had touched on every single one of those topics, with the exception of two: Sex
and current political affairs. Even I do not discuss the first one, particularly not with male colleagues of any
nationality, and the other one I avoid like the plague when I talk to Russians these days. There are so many
other fascinating things we can discuss about Russian culture that I don't want to go down that road. But I
felt really bad when I realized how many other topics I had discussed which evidently I should not have. I am
surprised they still speak to me! I also read that Russian women are not supposed to discuss politics, as it is
considered a 'male topic'. Actually it is not too far off that here either, even though saying that out loud would
have been met with total denial. I have a crowd of friends that I meet regularly, and somehow we are always
divided in two groups - the girls who discuss sowing and knitting and the guys who discuss politics. I always
go and sit with the guys, as I am very interested in politics and have very strong views there, but have zero
interest in sowing and knitting. Besides the group started with me and the guys, and the girls are just part of
the group because they became their girlfriends and wives, so I have more of a connection with the guys

On the 7th of January, Russian Christmas, my sister and I first visited some long lost cousins, and then went
to a Russian Orthodox mass.

Visiting my half cousins was weird but good. Due to a bitter family feud, we had never met, my mother and
her half brother were not on speaking terms for the better part of my life, but when they contacted us, my
sister and I saw no reason to continue the feud, so we accepted their invitation to meet. I remembered their
little brother, so it is incomprehensible to me that they could have forgotten about the existence of my sister
and me, as they said they had, given that we are each other's only cousins in that branch of the family and
my sister and I were 15 and 8 when contact was discontinued, but I guess my uncle was as adamant about
us not existing as my mother was that they did not exist. Also there are family secrets that I know my mother
would quite literally have killed to preserve, which go back to the Second World War and which involve their
father. My mother told me when I was 15, and it took me years to recover from the shock. I never even told
my husband, and I do not know when and if I will tell my daughters. Of course for me it involved people I
knew and respected, for my daughters it involves faded pictures in an album.

With my cousins we were able to talk about even the most difficult subjects, and for me who have almost no
family left, it felt amazing to get my two cousins back into my life. They had memories of my grandmother
which were wonderful to hear about. Since I am 20 years younger than them, I only know my grandmother
from when she was already senile, and a true granny, with white hair, tweed skirts, sensible shoes and a
knitted jacket. They remembered her from when she was about my age, when she was this super cool,
elegant creature with black hair, stiletto heeled white boots, white fur coat and smoking Blue Master
cigarettes from a mouthpiece - a kind and gentle version of Cruella de Ville. And today my cousin called my
sister, and said that she was from now on going to consider that there were two main periods in her life -
before and after she reconnected with us. I have no words to express the joy I feel.

A Russian Orthodox mass is something I will not forget in a hurry. I know that describing something which is
sacred for some - in particular when I do it in my generally irreverent, informal style, can be dangerous. I think
you all know, though, that I do it with love and respect. If I even so cause offense to anyone, I beg your
forgiveness. Since Mark had said that as non Orthodox we would only be allowed to attend the beginning of
the mass, I was a bit concerned and called them to enquire, but as I suspected, the church here was less
strict, and said we were most welcome, and that indeed the only part we could not take part in was Holy
Communion. We did not even have to cover our heads or wear a long dress. They said that those who were
used to cover their heads did, but if we had no tradition for doing so, that was fine, and as long as we were
modestly dressed, that was also fine. I had brought a couple of head scarves just in case, but although 90%
of the congregation wore head scarves, many did not, so we dropped it. The way they were dressed came as
a surprise. At the service Tania and I attended in my Protestant church on Norwegian Christmas Eve, people
were as formally dressed as you ever see Norwegians be. Many wore the traditional Norwegian costumes
"bunad" which are also worn for our Independence Day, on the 17th of May, for weddings, confirmations or
christenings, and which is the most formal dress we have. Those who did not wear a traditional costume, put
on the best clothes they had. Since Russians generally are so super elegantly dressed, I had assumed that
this would also be the case here, but on the contrary, I saw people wearing extremely simple clothes only.
Not a pair of high heels or an elegant dress in sight. I do not know whether this was because there is a
tradition to dress down for church, or whether church goers in general dress simply, but the difference was
striking. I had read up on an American website about what to do during the mass, so as not to make too
many mistakes, but there was at least one more thing which was done differently here. According to the web
site, men would stand at the right side of the church(the most important one), and women on the left side.
The intention of separating them being that they should not get distracted from God. Here they were mixed,
though. Perhaps the plain dress code was in order not to distract from God? I saw a picture of Putin from a
Russian country church on the same evening, and saw that he was indeed also very plainly dressed, with a
grey sweater instead of his customary tailor made suit.

If I were to pick out one main difference between a Protestant service and an Orthodox mass, it would be that
the Protestant service speaks to your mind and intellect, and an Orthodox mass speaks to your heart and
senses. The use of lights, incense, singing, candles and the bread symbolizing the body of Christ, made a
powerful combination which covered every one of your senses.

I was fairly confused half the time concerning what was going to happen next, or even what was happening
right now. We came 30 minutes early, and the church was already almost full. I was for a while unable to
figure out what they were doing, as one by one they went up to the priest and seemed to have a conversation
with him. Being used to the Catholic system, where there are booths for this, so that the priest and "sinner"
do not see each other, it took me a while to understand that they were confessing. I then remembered
reading that one should confess before going to Christmas mass. If ever I were to change to another version
of Christianity, that is something I would struggle with. Protestants do not confess, so I would have had to go
back to the beginning, and where would you even start to confess the sins of a lifetime? If I could stick to
actual sinful acts, I could have managed within a reasonable timeframe, but my Catholic friends confessed
even for thinking anything bad. How do you confess, or even remember every impure thought, every unkind
word, every thoughtless act from an entire life? I have very few regrets in life, and some of the ones I have,
probably would not count as sins in the eyes of the Church, but how do you confess what you do not regret,
and avoid confessing the things you actually feel bad about? My sister and I did obviously not confess. Since
we are not Russian Orthodox and were not going to take Holy Communion, it was not a requirement, and I
stood there thinking, that after having having contributed to end a family feud that had lasted since before I
was born, and taken up contact with family we have not spoken to since the 60ies, I felt as much at peace
with God and the world as I had felt in years, and that had to be good enough.

As I mentioned, you stand during mass here, but since I was unable to stand all the time due to my ankle, I
was happy that they had put out a few chairs, so I could sit. That made it a little awkward to bow after
crossing myself, and they bow and cross themselves A LOT during a Russian Orthodox mass. I think that I in
this one mass crossed myself more than I have done in the close to 100 Catholic masses I had been to
before. In the Protestant church we do not cross ourselves, at least not in the Lutheran Evangelical Church
that I belong to. Curiously enough, the crossing was performed a bit differently that in the Catholic Church. In
the Russian Orthodox Church you unite the three right fingers of your right hand (which symbolize the Trinity)
and put the two other fingers slightly bowed towards the palm of your hand (to symbolize the dual nature of
Christ) and cross yourself from top to bottom and from left to right. The Catholics do it from right to left, but
apparently in the Russian Orthodox Church you are supposed to mirror the Priest, not copy what he does,
and since he crosses himself from right to left, the Congregation does it from left to right. I think I must have
done it close to a 1000 times in this mass alone, so I got a lot of practice. I wondered for a moment whether
that would be able to overrule 41 years of crossing myself the Catholic way, just like one month of writing in
Russian made me struggle to write some of the Latin letters, but this morning I closed my eyes and tried, and
when I do not think, just go for automatic movement, it still comes out the Catholic way. That is possibly
because in Spain crossing yourself is not just part of the mass, it is part of everyday life and speech. When I
was a child living in Spain, crossing myself was something I saw and did every day. If you heard something
shocking, you would cross yourself and kiss your thumb, sometimes 10-15 times in a row. I have not seen
that in Russia, so I have no idea whether this is done, and since I have never lived in a family in rural Russia
the way I have in Spain, I have no points of reference.

I was not able to catch much of what was said during the mass, because most of the mass was given not in
Russian but in Church Slavonic, and only perhaps 2-3 % in Norwegian. I do not know how close the two
languages are, but I obviously recognized a lot of words from Russian, and I suppose that had I been a fluent
Russian speaker I would have understood it all. I seemed to recognize a few words from Ukrainian and
Serbian - is that possible? That there are words from Church Slavonic which have lived on in Ukrainian and
Serbian but not in Russian?

After mass my sister asked why they kept repeating "Bosperous" all the time, that it felt odd that they were
talking about a place in Turkey, and I had no idea what she was talking about, since I had not heard that, but
she insisted that it was repeated again and again. It then suddenly dawned on me, that she was referring to
'Gospadi pa milou' which they did indeed repeat again and again, and which I took to be the equivalent of
'Señor, ten piedad'. Not even sure what that is in English, since I have never been to a service in an English
speaking country. Could it be 'Lord have mercy'?

Another marked difference, was that where in a Protestant service, the communication is between the Priest
and the congregation, here it was mostly between the Priest and the choir. The Priest would say something,
and the response would be from the choir, only at the very end did the congregation join in and sing. And I
have to admit that the difference in quality between a Protestant congregation consisting mostly of people
who cannot sing, and a choir in a Russian Orthodox Church consisting of people who can, is dramatic. I just
closed my eyes and listened, and it was like hearing the angels sing.

The Priest wore a sort of black, stiff head scarf, which he took off and on several times. I did not quite figure
out why. Most of the candles were situated under the icons, and on at least one occasion, not just almost all
the electrical lights were switched off, but even all the candles were blown out, leaving the church almost in
darkness. They were lighted again after a while, though. Most people kissed the icons as they lighted a
candle. They never kissed the face of the saints, and I had read that this was because Judas had kissed
Jesus' face the night e betrayed him, so therefore they avoid doing that.

Incense is also something we do not use, but that I am familiar with from the Catholic Church. Apparently it is
only the priest and his helpers who are allowed to use it - members of the congregation could only use
candles. I do not know if the helpers were also priests, or whether they were laymen. They wore some sort of
robes, but no head scarf. I do not remember any laymen adults wearing any sort of robes in the Catholic
Church, but I remember the altar boys having some sort of white robes.

In our church, laymen can help at the service, but they do not wear any robes. In my role as president of my
local church council, I have assisted a few times, both at the service and in Christenings. I particularly liked
reading out loud from the Scripture, which is part of a Protestant service, though looking out over the
congregation while I was reading,   I could not help thinking that if The Lord needed to enlist my help to get
the job done, he was really in trouble. My faith consists more of doubt than of faith. I left the Church
altogether for 17 years, I only came back because I wanted to get married in a church, and I only stayed
because I wanted to christen my children. Not wanting to sail under a false flag, I informed the Minister and
the rest of the Church Council when we started our work, but after getting over the initial shock they still
wanted me as president. They said they needed my enthusiasm, my passion and my creativity. Presumably
they realized that they, as true believers, represented only 5-10% of the members, whereas I as a "Christian
of convenience" represented the overwhelming majority of the members, who like me only go to church for
ceremonies and for Christmas Eve. And I'll give them that: I have never had so much fun in any committee I
have ever been on. We were as radically different among us as a group could be, but sometimes we laughed
until we cried at the meetings, and no matter how hard we fought, we were always friends afterwards.

The only thing which I did not see coming during the Russian Orthodox mass, was that at one point we were
supposed to kneel. Not that I am unaccustomed to kneeling from Catholic masses, but there we had benches
to do it on. Here we got down on our knees on the floor, and bowed down until our foreheads touched the
floor, just like the Moslems do. I had never seen that before in a church, so I was not mentally prepared, and
the church was so full, that the first time it happened I could not bow down all the way to the floor without
stepping on someone. The second time I was prepared and had backed a little so I could do it properly. It
does teach you a thing or two about humility.

Another thing that surprised me a little bit was the bread which was given for Holy Communion. In Spain they
use wafer thin "biscuits" - hostias - but here they used sweet, white bread with raisins, which we in Norway
know as "julekake" or Christmas cake. The Priest lifted it up and kissed it, before it was divided up and given
to the members of the congregation. I did not see any wine, but I do not know whether that was because they
do not usually have wine, if they do not have it on Christmas Eve, or because they had that later.

After having been there for three hours and a half my sister had to throw in the towel, it was close to midnight,
and she was exhausted. I therefore did not get to see the end of the mass, but I thought she had been
magnificent to last as long as she did. I think she was a little surprised that I took such an active part in the
service, since she had probably expected me simply to watch, just as she did, but that was not possible for
me. My sister and I share a not-very-enthusiastic Protestant upbringing, but she lacks my Catholic
upbringing, so when I get into a church I just go on automatic pilot and follow the flow. Besides, I think that to
properly understand something, it is not enough to observe, you have to feel it. And as you know, when I go
in, I go all in :-)

I was in Belgium this week, and I had un uncommonly fussy trip this time. It all started at the security line in
Oslo, where I had to take off my belt and jacket and jewelry - or actually the security guard had to take off my
jewelry as women's jewelry and clothing are often of a nature which makes you need help. So the guard
removed the necklace for me, but of course the stupid machine started beeping even so. So off with boots
and watch and I told them I was wearing a corset, which I had absolutely no intention of removing in front of
30 people. So the guard blinked at me and goes :And have you hidden anything under your corset, Madame?
I just gave him a look and then we both screamed with laughter, as it is in the nature of corsets that there is
no space to hide as much as a stamp under them, and I said:" Well there is this machine gun that I have
stacked away, but I had not planned on telling you about that, you are ruining all my plans now!" In Oslo they
thankfully still have a sense of humor, I would not have dared to pull that one in France right now.

Then my plane was late due to the need of de-icing, which meant that I could only catch the very last train to
Lille. That train was also late, and standing on platform 3 they announced that there had been a change of
platform, and that we had to go to platform 2. Cursing the Belgian railways for making a last minute switch
when we had been standing there for 20 minutes waiting, I ran to platform 2 - only to realize that the train I
was supposed to be on was now standing at platform 3, and the change of platform they had announced was
for another train which should have been on platform 3. At this point I almost gave up, deciding that the gods
had not intended for me to reach Lille that night, but I decided that it was worth a shot, and rushed back to
platform 3 and managed to jump on the train one second before the doors closed. The next challenge was
that since this train was also delayed, I would normally not reach my connection. I have a wonderful
employee who takes really good care of me, orders my tickets and helps me with IT-matters, who found the
number for the two only hotels in the tiny city where I was supposed to change trains, just in case I needed to
spend the night there. Fortunately the train waited, and I arrived safely at Lille where 6 sturdy soldiers with
machine guns made sure the area was safe. I had planned on taking a taxi to the hotel since it was dark and
very late, but since I felt sorry for the taxi driver in front of the line who would waste his turn on such a short
ride I decided to walk. You know one of those films you see on TV where you see a woman walking alone in
deserted streets after dark, and you feel like screaming 'You stupid woman, whatever possessed you to make
that idiotic decision?!' Well now I know. The areas around a railway station, are often a bit shady, but around
Lille it had the added attraction of being totally deserted as soon as I got 50 meters from the station. The only
noise I could hear was the barking of a dog, the clicking of my heels and the occasional motor cycle driving
by. I got there safely, but I'll so take a taxi next time. Those 10 minutes of being scared are 10 minutes I am
never getting back.

I got to practice both English, French and Spanish at the meeting. Unfortunately there were no Russians
there, and I probably would not have had the guts to speak Russian with them if there were. One of the
participants is Czech and speaks Russian, but I do not think I'll try my Russian on him until it is better than his
English. And that is going to take a while. The meeting itself was absurd theater in its purest form. The man
who leads them is the only person in the world who positively makes me long for the one who leads my Paris
meetings. The latter merely makes me angry, the former makes me want to commit harakiri after having
gnawed off my left arm.

I was supposed to have met up with an old study buddy who works for NATO in the afternoon, and was
looking forward to seeing their headquarters, but it got cancelled literally in the last minute, as an important
meeting came up for him."Preparing for a meeting with the NATO ministers of defense" is not really a
canceling reason you can argue with. The new Secretary General is a Norwegian, Jens Stoltenberg, and I am
really happy that he is there. I disagree with him politically, but he is a truly good human being, and a
pragmatic man who has traditionally had excellent relations with both East and West. I cannot think of a
better person for that post right now. I was at Gare du Midi when I found out about the cancellation, and
called my trusted employee, to reschedule my flight home. After 4 minutes he called me up and said I had 6
minutes to find platform 12, and the train to the airport and that he would get me on the next plane home.

Yesterday I was reminded that you can make any moment into a linguistic moment. I went to have a
manicure, and the two ladies who worked there, who were Romanian and Lithuanian were absolutely
adorable and spoke in a fairly broken Norwegian. I corrected a couple of their most outrageous mistakes, and
they were over the moon since no one ever helped them with their Norwegian. An average Norwegian is way
too guarded to start correcting strangers. We laughed a lot when I explained to them what they had actually
been saying, and we had a blast. They thanked me profusely and we worked out a deal.   I'll teach them prim
and proper work terminology in Norwegian, and they'll teach me dirty words in Russian. Seems like a good
deal to me. :-)

I had ordered four Russian classes and three German classes for Friday. I wanted to get back to speaking
Russian as quickly as possible, and I wanted to see whether it was possible to save my German. What I had
not bargained for, was that I only slept for an hour the night before, so to go for that much language classes
on top of half a day's work, did not feel like the brightest of ideas when I set out. 7 cups of coffee later I was
doing fine though, so it went a lot better than I feared.

I therefore had classes with my old Russian teacher. I am terrified of her, because she gets mad when I make
grammatical errors in Russian (and I constantly make grammatical errors in Russian - I do not think I would
be able to say a single sentence without mistakes in it) plus she has the memory of an elephant, and will say
things like " But you have already learned this word, we did it 16 months ago".   We had not seen each other
since July, and the first thing she said was: "What happened to you!" I told her I had shed 25 kg, "Yeah, she
said, and 25 years!" (and with that I immediately forgave every harsh word she had ever said to me" :-) Not
that we are talking anywhere near thin, it's more Anna Nicole Smith than Nicole Kidman, but hey, it is a step
up from Melissa McCarthy:-)

She then wrote the following sentence on the black board: Уж не влюблена ли ты в ково-то, which if I
understood it correctly means "You would not have happened to fall in love with someone, would you?. "Now
why would you ask me that", I inquired. "Because your eyes sparkle" she answered. So we discussed that
particular topic for a good while, before I continued with everything else that has happened over the last 6
months. Three full hours of speaking Russian is a tough call, but it is getting better and better. She speaks
with a simple language to make sure I understand. And she was very pleased with the progress I had made
since we saw each other in July, so all in all I was very satisfied.

Going straight to German after four Russian classes felt like "pedaler dans la choucroute" as the French say,
or 'cycling through the sauerkraut'. Not very comfortable, and like I was going nowhere. But I could still speak
it, thank God. I had to search for some words, and my teacher said I made a lot more small mistakes than I
used to, but the speed and flow was acceptable, so he insisted that I was still in the B1-B2 range. And I have
to admit that this was a relief. I was afraid that my German had gone completely over to the dark side. I
actually said 'Да' instead of 'Ja' a lot fewer times than the last time we had German class, so my teacher
suggested that I should always make a point of just sleeping one hour the night before having a class with
him :-)

Going home that day after class it was cold and there was sleet, going on rain and a long wait for the bus, so
I opted to take a taxi. That is normally a 15 minutes' ride, but that day there was absolute anarchy on the
roads, and it took an hour and 20 minutes, and was one of the most expensive taxi rides I have ever taken. It
was worth it though, because I had another linguistic moment and I do not think I have laughed so much in a
taxi in my entire life. I was still laughing four hours later. I had the only taxi driver in Oslo who is from Tobago.
He asked that we speak English, and before the trip was over we had discussed languages (of course) every
aspect of Norwegian film industry and social life, he had seen pictures of my children, very subtly asked me
how old I was and whether I was married (which I technically am for another couple of weeks until my divorce
finally goes through), given me extremely detailed accounts of his financial assets and status (two flats, a
new Mercedes and a well filled bank account), his age (17 years younger than me) and I knew more details
of his personal life than I know of most of my friends. Arriving at my address he told me that he had learned in
his "Course for foreigners in Norwegian culture" that the locality I live in has the highest frequency of
domestic violence in the country, and that Norwegians have the highest frequency in the world of making
love outdoors. I am still trying to wrap my head around what might be the reason for the organizers of the
course thinking that this particular tidbit would be of use to a foreigner who had just landed in Norway. He
also insisted that I should start dating again now, and not wait the year or two that I had planned, offered to
take me to Tobago with him this summer and assured me six times that he did not say any of this to hit on

I am going to have so much fun this year . Even though Tobago will not be on my travel itinerary for 2015 :-)

Yesterday I went dancing with two girlfriends, and I had an amazing time. I danced so much that I had
крепатура this morning, which has not happened for a couple of decades. Both my friends, although being
from two different continents are like my sisters, and between that and me not knowing absolutely anyone
else there, I could dance exactly like I felt like. My body language while dancing tends to get a lot more
controlled and inhibited when there are people there who I know, but yesterday the conditions were perfect,
and there were very few people on the dance floor, so we could really move around the floor, not just stand
and move our feet a few cm.

I have been told I should use more bright colors, so after basically having worn black for the last 10 years I
have started doing that. When I was trying out dresses in Moscow the shop assistant said I looked best in
red, so I have decided to make red my new black, and have already bought 3 red dresses for different levels
of formality. I wore a short, figure hugging, red lace dress last night, and got several compliments. And that
does not really happen that often in Norway :-)

One thing that had changed since the last time I went dancing in Norway was that several guys came over
and sat down with us whenever we sat down between dances. Unfortunately Scandinavian guys (they were
Swedish and Norwegian) need so much liquid courage before talking to a girl that by the time they dare to
speak to you, the quality of the conversation leaves a lot to be desired. I do not understand the mechanics
behind getting drunk before speaking to a girl. I have yet to meet any guy who became more interesting to
talk to after a few liters of beer.

The one I talked most with refused to believe that I was not drinking any alcohol. He actually sniffed my glass
to verify it. Evidently it was incomprehensible to him that you can laugh and smile and chat and go wild on the
dance floor on a diet coke. When he (after asking) found out that not only did I not drink much, but I did not
smoke and I had not experimented sexually with other girls in college, he evidentially was at a loss as to how
to deal with such a strange animal as me, and proceeded to try to impress me with the size of his - cell
phone. Which admittedly was huge...

The last time a guy tried to impress me with his cell phone was in 1988, when cell phones were not so much
portable as draggable, and were installed in cars. And were indeed very exclusive. That one invited me out
for a ride in his car, just so he could offer me to call anyone I wanted from the car. It did not impress me much
then, and it definitely did not impress me much now. Had this one tried to discuss Swedish literature or
culture I could have had a good time, but discussing literature was probably beyond his capability at the point
when he had enough alcohol under his belt to become chatty, and sociable and charming.

Since Ari had said that he did not find understanding Norwegian as easy as he had thought, I asked this guy
how he felt about that, but he said that since his grandfather and uncle were Norwegian he had never had a
problem with that. (And my daughter and I were trying to figure out this morning, how his uncle and grandad
could be Norwegian while his father was Swedish, and decided that his grandfather must have married a
Swedish woman in his second marriage). He then proceeded to talk to me in a Svorsk which indicated that
things might not be as easy as he thought. There are occasionally people here on the forum who claim that
speaking Norwegian/Swedish or Czech/Slovak is no biggie, because they are so alike, but I disagree. Even
some of the greatest polyglots struggle to do more than one Scandinavian language, and anyone who can
show good active skills in two of them have my full respect. (Ok Tarvos, I know you can do it, but you are
special :-) When my daughter had gotten all the details from the evening (and it was a first for me to be the
one to tell her about my evening out, it is usually the other way round) she asked me whether I really had not
done any experimenting in college, and whether that was because I felt it was morally wrong. I told her that
no, but that it was not because I felt it was morally wrong, I had heaps of friends of all possible orientations, it
was simply because I had never had those kinds of feelings for a girl. So she goes, "Yeah, that's right. You
are one of those people who need to have feelings for people to make out with them". Yep. I am one of those.
Besides I was so incredibly shy when I was a teen ager that I ran a mile in the opposite direction every time a
guy tried to kiss me. I have no idea how I would have reacted if a girl had ever tried.

I am by the way constantly looking for any possibility to go back to Moscow again (love that city:-) and I am
counting on my Muscovite friends to show me or recommend something new, something they like to do
themselves, preferably something we could do together. Espejismo, in your case I'd love to meet your
grandmother. A woman who has raised someone like you must be truly exceptional, and I would love an
invitation for a cup of tea, to see if I could learn a thing or two to use on my daughters. Serpent, I'd also love
to meet your mum, she looked so beautiful and so much like you in her pictures, and perhaps you and I could
do the bus ride you recommended together? I would even consider going back to the sauna, and see if when
being mentally prepared, it would be possible for me to manage to endure the 'veniki' this time. Since I have
absolutely no tolerance for pain (I scream in pain just over a pedicure or going to the hairdresser) I do not
know if I could, but I guess it would be possible to stop them if the pain of the beating became too much for
me. Mark and vonPeterhof, are there any museums or any other places you think I should see in Moscow?

I carry a rouble note in my wallet all the time, as a good luck charm, reminding myself that I will go back soon,
and a card for the Moscow metro in my coat pocket that I use instead of a soothing stone. Not superstitious
at all :-)

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